Hostility, Terror, and Fear Highlight Cameron Ayers’s Debut Horror Novel

Adam Gravano

 

“Besides, what could they see but a hideous & desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts & wild men?”   William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

 

The woods represent a sort of special place in American horror. Woodlands have appeared as a sort of setting for the fears of Americans from some of the earliest recorded accounts on the continent. Whether in Algonquin tales of Wendigo, among a plethora other Native American tales, or William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, to Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly, a backward-looking Hawthorne, and all the way up to the recent American tradition of the slasher film, the woods have reliably given Americans a setting for where bad things can happen. The Truth Circle by Cameron Ayers is a recent addition to this tradition.

 

The action in the book starts innocuously enough with a group of six people taken into the woods by a small tour company, Mystic Tours, for a sort of Native American sweat-lodge-inspired purification ceremony. After the group is abandoned by their putative guide, John Lightfoot, they're left to their own devices in the face of limited food, struggles over what exactly to do, and the lurking perils of both the forest and the human mind. Essentially, the tale is one of the development of several damaged people in the face of a potentially hostile, uncaring natural world, all the while their tempers flare and their worst characteristics embellish.

 

 

For much of the plot, this book reads like a season of Survivor, with one character, Ken, exemplifying the style of brash, noxious mannerisms that sell best with heel seeking reality TV audiences. He isn't the only character who hews close to type; he is, however, the first one the reader will find tiresome. The true horror of this story is being isolated in the woods with a man whose supply of sophomoric, offensive nicknames grows in inverse proportion to the food supply. Hell, after all, is other people.

 

Alongside this, one is left with a somewhat clouded view into the psyches of the characters. The characters are, of course, left to guess what one another's feelings and motivations are. The reader is forced to wait for knowledge that, perhaps, a perceptive observer may attain in a person's presence. This even happens for the character who bears the brunt of the story's focus, Lamar. Lamar is afflicted with social anxiety, often speaking clearly to move into a steep decrescendo to a whisper as his nervousness mounts. While the author chooses to show this decrescendo in smaller and smaller font size, this provides little view of Lamar's psyche, which given the goal of transformation, like those of the others, is essential.

 

Despite these criticisms, Ayers’s first novel succeeds. While somewhat unpolished, Ayers has written an engaging and entertaining novel and provides a gritty show of interpersonal jostling for leadership in a crisis.

 

If coronavirus has your reality TV feed full of reruns, Ayers’s book is more than warmed-over leftovers --  it's a fresh four-course meal.

 

    

(Cameron Ayers -- photo courtesy of the author)

 

 

Author Bio:

 

Adam Gravano is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

 

Image Sources:

 

--Courtesy of the author

 

--Pxfuel (Creative Commons)

 

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